Perception is reality

6th of September 2016 Article by Markus Asch
Perception is reality

Markus Asch, vice chairman of the management board at cleaning solutions manufacturer Kärcher and president of EUnited Cleaning, writes his latest blog for ECJ. Following on from his last blog on August 8, he continues to examine the imbalance between the importance of the cleaning sector, and how it is appreciated by the world at large.

Perception is reality - this management creed has, in my mind, a lot to do with the disparity between the importance of our industry and the value placed on it, as described in my last blogpost.

In truth, the perception of our work seems to have more to do with dirt and rubbish than with sustainability, cleanliness, safety and health - that is, the issues that we really (want to) represent. This is probably related to the historical beginnings of our profession, as a large percentage of cleaning tasks derive from waste removal.

For example, as early as the mid-15th Century, the town council of Cologne made it illegal under threat of punishment for inhabitants to dispose of rubbish in front of their doors. The city's trail masters were in charge of enforcing the rule. Similar documents have been found in Hamburg and Stuttgart from around the same time period, and the same can be said for almost all European cities at the time.

This long tradition cannot hide the fact that completion of these duties was hardly considered an honour; the rubbish collectors were almost always people from lower classes, and often prisoners were forced to do the job as part of their sentencing. Many other cleaning tasks were filed under 'punishment', and not well thought of at all. No wonder, then, that we find few people to value our work.

As far as I am concerned, it is not just historical traditions that provide a key to understanding the current view of our industry; the management creed quoted at the beginning also sheds some light on the issue. But, much more importantly, it also provides us with an idea of the actions we can take to gain the recognition that we deserve over the long term.

Our chances of success are high - the increased use of machines and technology has made many tasks more difficult, which automatically results in rising admiration. Sustainability is gaining traction around the world as a societal megatrend, and the same can be said of hygiene and health. These subjects represent the core of our work, and its results.

We have a great opportunity to highlight these topics in outward communication as intrinsic to our work, in the interests of radically changing perceptions. Of course, I do not have a patented solution for achieving this goal, but there is one thing that seems particularly important: that we continue to claim these terms as our own in the future. After all, words create the perception, and therefore (see above) the reality.

The use of the word 'problem' makes this clear. Problems weigh us down. Which is why it is much better to use the word 'challenge' - we can rise to meet a challenge. There are similar examples from our own industry: city cleaning not only sounds much better than waste disposal, it also has much more positive connotations.

In the following blogposts, I will continue to provide examples for how we can represent the vital role that cleaning plays in our society in a more positive light.

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